This Week in Education Organizing - March 23, 2018

Youth-led Walkouts and Rally in Chicago Demands #EducationNotCriminalizations

Chicago students from Back of the Yards High School, Curie High School, Hancock High School, Kelly High School, Linkblom Math and Science Academy and Brighton Park Elementar participated in the national school walk-outs on March 14th. Youth leaders held a rally downtown in solidarity with the Parkland students, and to demand more funding for their communities.

Many of the young people who participated in these actions shared their own heartbreaking experiences with gun violence in Chicago. These students have witnessed the effects of disinvestment in communities of color first-hand and will continue to fight for more resources for their schools and communities. The students held CTA train takeovers, a press conference at Daley Plaza, a die-in at City Call, a mic-check at CPS headquarters and a march on the streets of downtown Chicago. The groups’ demands are listed here.

Journey for Justice Releases Short Documentary

On Wednesday this week, Journey for Justice Alliance released a compelling short documentary chronicling the fight against education reform in the age of Trump and DeVos. Beyond the rhetoric coming from DC, Journey for Justice has been raising the voices of those most impacted by budget cuts and privatization. Following J4J's cross-country trip from Detroit to Washington, D.C. to oppose Betsy DeVos' appointment as Education Secretary in early 2017, this film not only shows the profound hurt that these policy changes cause, but the inspiring organizing done to resist them. Learn more & watch the video here.

Puerto Rico Passes Island’s First Charter Law

The Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico has passed a bill to allow the establishment of both charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers on the island. The law is on the desk of Governor Ricardo Rossellό, who is likely to sign it. A separate but parallel fiscal measure calls for the closure of 300 public schools across the island.

This is disaster capitalism in its purest form. The charter industry, the Governor and the PR Secretary of Education with support from Betsy DeVos, took advantage of the island’s long and difficult recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria to peddle the glories of privatization. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools had issued a letter in opposition to the bill, signed by nearly 100 organizations from across the United States.

The new law is light on regulatory detail. It would allow up to 3% of students to receive school vouchers, prioritizing students with severe disabilities, gifted and low-income students, among others. Students receiving vouchers would receive no more than 70% of what is currently provided in per pupil spending (apparently students with disabilities and low-income students need less?). The new law allows for new charter schools as well as the conversion of existing public schools in to charters. Charters must be run by non-profit operators (this is always a little deceptive, because in many states, a for-profit management company can set up a non-profit front group, which then turns over management of the school to the for-profit company) and must be nonsectarian. Students would be given enrollment preference if they live in the community and would otherwise enter a lottery for seats. At this juncture, the number of charter schools is capped at 10% of all public schools. For more information about the bill, see this piece from Education Week.

New Study Finds Links Between Charter Schools, Gentrification

A new study finds that the availability of charter schools in and near low-income communities of color, increases the march of gentrification in those areas. When more affluent, white people feel they can purchase homes without committing to send their children to the neighborhood school, they are more likely to be willing to move in to struggling communities, taking advantage of lower housing prices. Read about the study here.

Congressional Spending Bill Passed – It Was Not Christmas for Betsy DeVos

As Congress debated on a FY 2018 spending bill (continuing funding for the current fiscal year), Betsy DeVos went up the Hill to fetch some votes for her slash-and-burn budget proposals. She got a cold reception on Tuesday, then a kick on the backside on Thursday, when Congress approved an appropriations package that increases rather than decreases, spending for public education.

The spending bill boosts funding for the Department of Education by $3.9 billion. It includes $1.1 billion (an increase of $700 million) for Student Support and Academic Enrichments Grants, which can be used for school counseling and mental health services, technology investments and STEM education. Both Title I and IDEA also got bumps in funding, and the bill maintains funding for Title II, which focuses on teacher professional development and class-size reduction. 21st Century Community Learning Centers in Title IV also got a boost. Not exactly what DeVos had been lobbying for.

The STOP School Violence Act, a Justice Department initiative was inserted into the spending bill. It would provide $75 million annually tofund training and other initiatives intended to enhance school safety. The bad news is, this includes spending for more metal detectors and security systems in schools. The good news is that the bill was modified to prohibit federal funding for purchasing firearms or firearms training for educators and school staff

For DeVos, the appropriations bill must have seemed like a pointed rebuke. Her proposal to dismantle the Department’s budget office was rejected. Her school choice proposals were rejected, although the federal Charter School Program got a small bump. Her proposal to use $1 billion in Title I funds to encourage school choice was rejected. And her efforts to dismantle the Departments Office for Civil Rights? Well, Congress sent an additional $8.5 million to the OCR with appropriators directing the Secretary to staff up the office (DeVos had wanted to cut 46 positions). The bill also directs the Secretary to keep open all 12 regional OCR offices. The Secretary had wanted to close 8 of them.

In addition to our weekly “This Week in Education Organizing” newsblast, AROS is starting a new email string specifically on news about Betsy DeVos’s agenda and appearances. Emails will be sent fewer than once a week (we promise!!) unless there’s major happenings. If you’d like to be on the receiving end of these “DeVos Watch” emails, please sign up here.

Advancement Project and Dignity in Schools Campaign Release a Tool Kit

The Advancement Project and Dignity in Schools Campaign have developed a tool-kit for groups working on school-to-prison pipeline issues, and in particular, working to retain the Obama package of guidances on school discipline, which Betsy DeVos is proposing to rescind. The tool-kit is available at: https://advancementproject.org/campaigns/nocopsnoguns


UPCOMING EVENTS

Journey for Justice National Conference: May 18-20 in Chicago. Reservation for hotel rooms must be in by March 31st (next week!).  We Choose Equity, Not the Illusion of Choice will be held at Walter H. Dyett High school. For more information, check out the J4J website.


Follow the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools on Facebook and Twitter and learn more at www.reclaimourschools.org.


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